How to get your hands dirty in the garden of the Big Apple
- Last Updated: 11:22 AM, April 17, 2012
- Posted: 10:29 PM, April 13, 2012
Greenhouse developer BrightFarms just announced massive plans to build a 100,000-square-foot hydroponic garden — which would be the world’s largest rooftop garden — atop a warehouse in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park. It’s projected to yield 1 million pounds of produce per year. But New Yorkers don’t need to have massive financing or an endorsement from Mario Batali to reap their own fruits and veggies.
“People have been gardening in the city for a long time — forever, probably,” says Monica Willis, a contributing senior editor at Country Living. “Any random empty space in New York City, somebody’s trying to figure out how to grow something on it.”
Willis is one such urban gardener. For 17 years, she’s been working the soil at the Lotus Garden, an Upper West Side community garden. Need more food for thought? Here’s the dirt on some different types of gardens around the city.
When Emily Wood, 31, and Jeff Lai, 33, first moved into their Carroll Gardens apartment in March 2006, they decided to reclaim the backyard as farmland (the previous tenant had turned it into a sandbox for their children). The couple had intended to get rid of the ugly clumps of sticks jutting out of the ground, but in May, when leaves sprouted, the plants revealed themselves to be a fig tree and a Concord grapevine. Every year since, the couple, who dubbed their row-house plot “the Brooklyn Farm,” have added another container of plants, figuring things out by trial and error. “It just keeps getting better and better,” says Lai, a graphic designer who hadn’t had any gardening experience until then. This weekend, the home farmers are adding compost to enrich the soil in preparation for planting beginning late next month. Follow their progress at brooklynfarm.blogspot.com.
Good to grow: Tomatoes, red peppers, green beans, tomatillos, blackberries. “We’ve tried to buy tomato plants from the farmers market, but they don’t compare to the productivity you get from Home Depot,” says Lai, who doesn’t start plants from seeds. “It takes a lot of work,” he says. “You start them inside most of the time, but our apartment is so small, we don’t have the space.”
Growing pains: Feral cats run around and trash all the plants. “We tried putting plastic forks in the pots, which worked, but then we had plastic forks sticking out of everything,” says Wood, a floral designer. “It was so ugly, we couldn’t take it. But [the cats] keep away mice and squirrels.”
Pests: Even Brooklyn has crop-destroying aphids, so the couple alternates between natural sprays and aphid-eating ladybugs, which they purchased in previous seasons from Gowanus Nursery (1,500 bugs for less than $10).